Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eye is unable to produce enough tears or produces a poor quality tear that evaporates too quickly. It is estimated that over 10 million Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome.
Natural tears normally consist of three different layers: mucous to help tears adhere to the surface of the eye, acqueous to moisturize the cornea, and oil to prevent evaporation. If one or more of these layers are imbalanced, dry spots may appear on the surface of the eye resulting in itching, burning, redness, a gritty/sandy sensation, blurred vision, excess watering, a stringy discharge from the eye, and overall discomfort. These symptoms frequently occur in dry environments such as in an airplane cabin, driving in a car, extensive reading or working on a computer. People who are exposed to excess amounts of sun, wind, dust, or smoke can often suffer from dry eye syndrome.
Treatment usually consists of proper lubricating eye drops or oral medications and supplements to help restore the natural balance of tears produced. Using warm compresses and massaging the eyelids daily may also increase tear flow. If you wear contact lenses, be sure to follow your doctor's recommended cleaning and wearing schedule to help prevent any dry eye symptoms. When choosing over-the-counter lubricating eye drops, be careful of some products designed to reduce redness, as prolongued or excessive use of these drops can often worsen symptoms and lead to more discomfort. Consult your eye care professional for recommendations on which eye drops to use.